Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Long Posts (!) 7/7/15: My Silence on Greece, Silly Women Are Too Apologetic and How Conservatives Stole the Human Rights Narrative

1.  Greece is in great trouble and Germany ain't helping.  The proper analysis of who-did-what-wrong-and-when would require the kind of expertise which those who specialize in European economics and politics acquire over many years.

In short, though I'm an economist, my homeroom is in micro, not in macro or international monetary markets, and that's why I've stayed mum on the topic. But a country which gives up its own currency doesn't only benefit from turning to euros; it also loses: 

It can no longer use domestic inflation or the devaluation of its currency to remedy economic problems, and when external lenders and supranational banks start dictating austerity politics, the country must go along meekly.  If the austerity politics don't work, the country must meekly agree to even more austerity politics.

On the other side of the coin is the question who will ultimately pay for what is taking place in Greece.  The answer is the Greek people, especially the poorer Greeks, but also the taxpayers in other European Union countries.  I very much doubt that the banksters end up paying much.  They are banksters, after all, and will always be bailed out.

2.  Do "girls" apologize too much?  Do "girls" use a rising Valley Girl intonation in their speech patterns, thus coming across as questioning and submissive and not at all like stern bosses? Do "girls" have too much vocal fry in their voices?  Those are the kinds of topics we earnestly and seriously investigate, these days.

How about doing a reversal here?  Why won't we, by the way?  Why are we not analyzing what might be wrong, on average, with the way "boys" speak?

Or better still, how about noticing that all this agonizing (which has gone on for decades) assumes that the way "boys" speak is the gold standard, that the average man's use of the language is the default.

You might argue that this is because what men do seems to be working in the labor market.  They choose and/or are given better jobs, on average.  They end up earning more.  But the reasons for that are complicated and various, and the simple idea of just copying men's speech patterns is probably not going to work for most women.

That's because assertive speech is not judged the same (in end note) when it comes from a woman. Put in research terms, we need studies which compare two otherwise identical large groups of women applying for jobs, say, having equal resumes and so on, but one group is trained to speak assertively and the other one is not.  Ideally, both those groups should also contain subgroups of minority women, to see if the same gendered rules apply to all women.

The point is that in any situation where we evaluate the effect of speech we need to look at not only the speaker but also the listener(s).  Still, speaking assertively is always worth trying, right?   Fuckit?

3.  This American Prospect article on the use of the conscience clause by American conservatives has a lot of food (pesto with peas!) for thought. 

Its central point is the idea of being complicit in something.  For instance, pharmacists in some states have the right to refuse to dispense the contraceptive pill if doing so is against their sincerely held (and utterly stupid) belief that fertilized eggs are being massacred by women who pop those pills (the careless sluts), and that right of refusal is now based on the argument that the pharmacist doesn't want to be complicit in the murder of embryos.

But this idea of complicity has serious problems for "third parties," those, who may not even have the same religion but whose lives are severely affected by these new religious rights.  The most obvious example of that:

The latest wave of health-care refusal legislation uses concepts of complicity to authorize conscience objections in broadly defined circumstances. Mississippi, for example, allows health-care providers to assert conscience objections to providing “any phase of patient medical care, treatment or procedure, including, but not limited to, the following: patient referral, counseling, therapy, testing, diagnosis or prognosis, research, instruction, prescribing, dispensing or administering any device, drug, or medication, surgery, or any other care or treatment rendered by health care providers or health care institutions.” The Mississippi law also defines “health care provider” as expansively as possible. Like laws adopted in some other states, the one in Mississippi is based on a model statute promulgated by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.
Laws authorizing health-care providers to refuse patient care illustrate how conservatives are now using the ideas of conscience and religious liberty. States like Mississippi could accommodate the conscience objections of health-care providers while ensuring alternative care for patients. But health-care refusal laws rarely require institutions to provide alternative care; many even authorize providers to refuse to inform patients that they are being denied services that they may want. Expansive health-care refusal laws of the kind Mississippi has enacted thereby serve to restrict access to abortion.

Emphasis is mine.  This is a real-life example of a case where one individual's religious rights could have seriously harmed the health of a third party.  If we continue along this route, we are on the way to unnecessary deaths such as that of Savita Halappanar.

My apologies (!!!) for ending up with three long posts in one big messy pot of bloggy peas-and-guacamole.  You are getting more than you paid for, of course, but then most of you didn't pay at all!  I guess I'm apologizing for the minutes I took out of your life, sigh.


Bill Cosby, Quaaludes and the Meaning of Sex

At least a dozen women have accused the comedian Bill Cosby of drugging them and then sexually abusing or raping them. Now a deposition statement from 2005, having to do with one of those times when Cosby was sued for all that alleged drugs-and-raping stuff, has been unsealed (gasp! Seems as if it should have been made public much, much earlier). 
In a deposition taken in late September 2005, Cosby was asked by Dolores M. Troiani, Constand’s attorney, “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?”

Cosby replied: “Yes.”
Practically every newspaper or website which reported in this headlined the story something like this

Bill Cosby admitted to 'obtaining sedatives for sex'
That naturally led to the question what "obtaining sedatives for sex" meant and the odd omission of the possibility that most if not all of this smells quite a bit more of rape than of consensual sex.

But as Irin Carmon has pointed out*, the headlines are written that way because of legal reasons. 

A man like Cosby is so layered with lawyers that a newspaper never wants to write anything which he might use for a lawsuit.  Cosby has not been found guilty of rape in a court of law (though honestly those who still refuse to believe the women who accuse him should check if their brains are still under a free repairs warranty), and if you read the WaPo link above carefully you will note that he never admitted to rape or sexual abuse or any kind. 

For instance, (here Echidne is the devil's defense counsel) he really really might have wanted to make the women relax and enjoy the sex which he was planning and to which they eagerly later consented, and he doesn't even say that he was trading the Quaaludes for sex, never mind slipping them into the women's drinks when they were looking elsewhere.

I had to Google Quaaludes to find out why that would be the drug of Cosby's choice, or one of them:

Effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, reduced heart rate, reduced respiration, increased sexual arousal (aphrodisia), erectile dysfunction, and paresthesias (numbness of the fingers and toes). Larger doses can bring about respiratory depression, slurred speech, headache, and photophobia (a symptom of excessive sensitivity to light).
A possible hypnotic effect is also mentioned!  Bill "the Houdini" Cosby!


Monday, July 06, 2015

More On The Women's World Cup: Sun in Your Eyes, No Money in Your Pockets

I watched the gold medal game, all excited to start, imbibing on ambrosia as goddesses are wont to do (blueberry kefir, for you earth-dwellers).  And then I saw the field, the sun and the patterns the sun made at one end of  that field.  The coin toss gave the sun-shade-sun-shade goal to the Japanese (and their goalie) in the first half of the game.  Whether that contributed to the 5-2 US win is debatable, but I like games to start on an even footing, will all external factors equalized.

I'm not enough of a soccer connoisseur to know if fields like this are commonly encountered in the games, but surely it makes a difference if one side has a much harder job, defending against both the other team and the sun. 

So I stomped and I hissed and I sent imaginary boils into the butts of those who arranged the final of the Women's World Cup to take place at that time of the day and with that sun pattern.  It's almost as if someone didn't care very much, almost as if this, too, was part and pattern of the same reason which gave us these games on artificial turf.

Maybe all this is in my head.  Maybe such unequal fields are common in soccer.  Or maybe not.

Then there's the sponsorship problem.  Or salary problem.  For instance:

After the prior Women’s Professional Soccer league failed to become financially viable, the fledgling National Women’s Soccer League, founded in 2013, has set salaries extremely low. “The minimum salary for an NWSL player is $6,842 for the course of the six-month season; the maximum is $37,800, made primarily by international-level players,” reported NBC Sports’ Jeff Kassouf. The minimum salary in the male counterpart, Major League Soccer, is $60,000. In contrast to the victorious women, the U.S. Men’s Team is ranked 27th in the world by FIFA. Even with major brand endorsements, Grantland estimated that one top player made between $60,000 and $92,500 a year.
The routine explanation for that is the lack of an audience for women's games.  Well, the audience for the Women's World Cup was pretty respectable:

When compared to the other major summer sporting events this year, it easily beat out the NBA Finals (average overnight rating of 13.9) and the Stanley Cup finals (7.6 million viewers).
All that reinforces my old arguments (reinforces, because I'm a goddess and know stuff!) about the importance of letting women's sports grow from infancy to adolescence to adulthood before judging them as uninteresting for some innate biological reason (like evo-psycho reasons of men fighting for all the women in the audience in a winner-gets-all brawl).  That's true for any new sport or any new group picking up a sport.  Not all of those will thrive, but we should give them the same chance as we give newly sprouted seeds in the vegetable beds before we judge them.

And a lot of little sprouts will crop up in the soccer gardens of American youth because of these games.  The more the game is played by the children, both girls and boys, the more seats we will have in the future audiences.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Women's Sports Debate, Redux

Amanda writes about some of the pejorative things one often hears when it comes to women's team sports, and notes that those things have been less heard in the context of the Women's World Cup in soccer.  You know, the kind of stuff about girls not being able to throw a ball or how watching women's games is about as interesting as watching paint dry and so on.

In my opinion,  beach volleyball outfits or the statements of some about how female soccer players have gotten better because they now wear makeup are part and parcel of the same criticism, albeit in disguise.  How to get men to watch women's sports if too many think women aren't athletic enough to be worth watching?   Give us more tits and butts and pretty faces!

Problem solved.

Which it isn't of course, and in any case we need to have both men and women to watch women's sports if those sports are to get commercial sponsors. 

Similar opinions about the weakness of women were expressed in the comments to this article about a WNBA player reading some mean tweets aloud.  Last night when I checked the comments (won't go there again, though many also defended the female players), several pointed out that women are inferior athletes and watching women's games is boring.

I have three quick thoughts about all that:

First, most women's "professional" team sports are really recent.  Little girls have not played soccer or ice-hockey or basket ball in large numbers until quite recently.  What that means is that the foundation of some of those sports is still wobbly, especially in some other countries than the US, and that we shouldn't compare, say, women's soccer on the global level with men's soccer on the global level, given the much longer history, support and base of the latter.

Women's sports are likely to improve a lot in the very near future, and they have already improved a lot.  One coach of women's soccer pointed out that none of the medal-winning teams of the 2007 World Cup could have placed in this year's Cup, assuming that they had paid the 2007 game now.

Second,  the idea that women are inferior athletes uses an odd definition of an athlete, one which assumes that the basis one starts from (bone structure, testosterone levels etc) is what the word "athlete" means.  I have always interpreted "an athlete" to mean not only the genetic talents a person has but also the amount of work and training the person has invested in the sport.

If we used that odd definition of what makes a superior or inferior athlete, then we shouldn't have weight classes in boxing or wrestling, because clearly the heavier boxers are the better hitters.  They hit harder.

Third,  as several people have pointed out elsewhere, why is it so important to compare men's team sports to women's team sports in the first place?  Why not enjoy the good soccer or good ice-hockey in men's games and also in women's games?  My guess* is that this need for comparisons comes from us being used to watching the men's games, so those become the obvious comparison point.  But surely it's possible to get past that point.

*Excepting those who oppose women's sports because they believe women belong in the kitchen and the bedroom and by the vacuum cleaner only.

The Peas-In-Guacamole Debacle

Humans are utterly astonishing!  I often feel like an observer at the far edges of this alien life (don't eat guacamole, love peas).  The Twitter abuzz about peas in guacamole!  At least it provides relief from the Twitter fights.

So what is your opinion on this life-changing question?  Can peas and guacamole marry or not?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Posts 6/30/15. On Growing Income Inequality in the US, Fifty Shades of Gray and the Way To Write About Violence Against Women

1.  This article about British convictions in violent crimes against women is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but what struck me most was the way the piece uses "people" for the offenders and "women and girls" for the victims.  For example:

There were increases in the number of successful prosecutions for sexual offences, child sex abuse, domestic violence cases and honour-based violence, while more people were charged with rape than ever before in the past year.

The bolds are mine.

2.  E.L. James, the writer of the Fifty Shades of Gray, held a Twitter Q&A session.  According to this BuzzFeed article it went horribly wrong.  From another angle it went pretty much as one would expect it to.

3.  Income inequality in the US continues to grow after the most recent recession:

The rich did far better, however. The top 10 percent of American earners, or those making more than $121,000 a year, got an even larger slice of the economic pie in 2014, capturing 49.9 percent of total income. That represents the highest share they’ve ever gained except for 2012. The top 1 percent of earners also got a boost, netting 21.2 percent of the country’s income, up from 20.1 percent in 2013. While most Americans saw income growth of 3.3 percent, incomes for the richest 1 percent grew by 10.8 percent.
When did the most recent trend in increasing income inequality begin?  The linked article suggest this happened in the 1980s and escalated during the 1990s.

A fun homework for you is to figure out what else might have changed around then, both internationally (such as the fall of the Berlin wall which reduced resistance to unbridled capitalism in international politics) and inside US politics (the push for globalism, the changes in laws which led to lowered taxes for the top 1%, the "liberation of financial markets").   This Wikipedia article (which may not be completely unbiased) suggests some additional ideas.

What I had in mind for that homework is not the details of what has happened but the wider trends:  the death of unionization (unions benefit lower income workers more, including women earning lower incomes), the "capture" of the legislative branch by the richest among us, partly because of no proper campaign financing laws, and then the fact that as income inequality increases greater differences are created among the goals and concerns of those who have lots of money and those who have less.  If the wealthier have more say in politics, through that one-dollar-one-vote, there will be further laws which tilt the playing fields towards greater inequality.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On Diversity Among Facebook Employees

Those of you who have read my opinions before might remember that I don't like the term "diversity" in hiring.  For example, it allows a big blond wheat cake to be peppered with a few specks of cardamom and a few peppers, and then we have a cake full of diversity!  At the other extreme the term tends to make a total mess of what happens when we ignore the actual population percentages of various groups.

To give you an example of the latter problem, suppose that some country has 90% of purple people and 10% of green people, and that initially 100% of all the good jobs are held by purple people and 0% are held by green people, even though green and purple people are, on average, equally good at those jobs and want them as much.

Then we get a diversity effort, and the jobs start shifting, so that at one point 95% are held by purple people and 5% by green people.  That's progress right?  But is it still progress if at a later point 80% of the jobs are held by purple people and 20% by green people?  Should more jobs shift towards the green people?

I don't think so.  Assuming that purple and green people are equally interested in the jobs and equally good at them, then the percentages should reflect the population percentages, that is 90% for the purple folks and 10% for the green folks.

Same Sex Marriage Legal In All Fifty States

The decision came after my Friday post was published.  I have nothing useful to say about it, except that it's worth watching this Colbert snippet as a summary of the majority opinion and various dissents:

As an aside, is Colbert using the term "gay" to refer to all who might consider same sex marriage (that is, gays and Lesbians and bisexuals)?  Or is this just a term for the guys?  I suspect the former, so we have the same setting as we used to have (or still have?) when using the terms "man" or "mankind"  Women are assumed to be included except when they are not.

Those usages are confusing, because you get two different messages inside your brain when only one message is being sent.

Anyway, the Supreme Court must have been taken over by aliens from outer space during the last few weeks.  That's the only way to interpret so many astonishingly reasonable and good decisions.   Well, it's really Justice Kennedy that's making the difference.  Perhaps he has been taken over by the aliens.

What I Did Over The Weekend

Got my passport renewed, and came across that dratted old problem that I don't really have fingerprints.  Whenever I have to get them taken the print-taker agonizes and agonizes and finally accepts some smudge or other.

How about that?  You could argue that snakes don't have fingers, naturally.  But I have fingers, not just fingerprints.  It's unlikely that I have adermatoglyphia (though my mom has no fingerprints at all) , because it looks like something called "damaged fingerprints."  They try to be real fingerprint whorls but fail miserably.  Sigh.  That's the story of my life.

I was once told that my prints are worn down from all that housework!  People are so funny.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Short Posts, 6/25/15: A Response To Tim Hunt, Women in Iran and KIng v. Burwell

1.  This is a hilarious response to Tim Hunt's concerns about women in STEM laboratories (see here for my earlier take on what he said).

2.  Meet Nasrin Sotoudeh, a very brave female activist in Iran.  From the files of sexism in sports, Iran has also decided not to let women watch men's volleyball games:

According to women inside Iran who are campaigning to attend the matches as spectators, Iranian authorities reneged on promises that they could attend and restricted ticket sales to men three days before the opening match on Friday, June 19. Security forces took up positions around the stadium, inspected approaching cars at checkpoints, and diverted women away. In flyers, political hardliners compared women spectators in stadiums to “prostitutes.”
Iranian authorities have banned women and girls from stadiums hosting football matches for decades, but only recently extended the ban to volleyball—in flagrant violation of the principle of gender non-discrimination in sports.
 I don't get the "prostitutes" argument.  Is the idea that the women will get all sexually excited from seeing semi-naked men playing volleyball?  Would male veiling help?  General modesty in male dress?  Or is modesty a one-sided game, where women are expected to always play defense and men offense?

3.  In a week of more good news than usual, this is probably the best news for Americans:

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell is not simply a victory for the Obama administration — and for the millions of Americans who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for their health coverage. It is a sweeping, crushing blow for conservatives who seek to use the courts to undo what President Obama and a Democratic Congress accomplished. “In a democracy,” Chief Justice John Roberts implicitly scolds the activists behind this litigation, “the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people.” He then offers a broad statement to future judges called upon to interpret the Affordable Care Act: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

Justice Scalia's dissent was withering.  He was vewwy, vewwy angwy.   SCOTUSCare, indeed.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Invisible Elephants In Online Debates: Lack Of Nuance, Odd Couplings And The Impact of Online Propaganda

It's almost a truism that online debates (say, on Twitter) lack nuances, and usually I just accept that and slither on.  But on some days I get sick of it all.

Then I grumble, in my silent room, to an audience of zero, that it's not "both sides do it" if the number of those deeds is ten million on one side and ten on the other side.  Or rather, the "both sides do it" argument doesn't make the two sides equally at fault.

Neither is a mass murder equal to punching your neighbor in a quarrel over a tree on the border of your lots.  Yet if you take that parable to political writings you spot several examples where the difference in the severity of what has been done is utterly ignored. 

When I really get going in my sermon I point out to the interested walls that numbers do matter.  If some policy is going to hurt, say, half of all Americans, and another policy is going to hurt one American in every ten thousand, the two are not the same in their total numerical consequences.

A more nuanced conversation would allow that and would also look at the severity of the consequences for each individual, to come to a proper conclusion about how, for instance,  the resources of activist movements should be allocated.  At a minimum it would open the discussion to more relevant details.

Finally, after a sip of of water, I tell the empty room that it's a very good idea to ask this simple question:  Compared To What?, when people tell us about the high rates of something (criminality, illness etc.) for one group of individuals (check the rates for the other groups before getting all excited) or about the health risks of some treatment or non-treatment.  For an example of the latter, those who talk about the health dangers of the contraceptive pill or abortion usually don't tell us how high the dangers of getting pregnant and giving birth might be.

All those aspects are invisible elephants, stampeding over the logic of the debate.  But if you point them out you get stampeded!  It's not fun, even for someone who slithers fast.